Tag Archives: Barnstorming

“The Farce of the Season”

26 Nov

In November of 1885 Topeka, Kansas was scandalized by a baseball game.

The Daily Capital said:

“A social game of baseball, whether the contestants are skilled professionals of ambitious amateurs, is always a matter of some interest and pleasure both to the participants and the spectators; but a sensational exhibition, such as was witnessed at the fairgrounds yesterday afternoon, is another and quite a different thing.  The fact that it attracted a crowd of several hundred men and boys does not divest the spectacle of its questionable character, and it is surprising that an outfit of this kind should receive such substantial encouragement in a city like Topeka, where a claim to ordinary civilization is advanced and where the spires of nearly a hundred churches cast their shadows upon an enlightened and progressive people.”

The Daily Commonwealth was more succinct:

“The farce of the season was the game of baseball played yesterday afternoon.”

The cause of the outrage was “The Fairies of the Field,” a traveling female team.

The Daily Commonwealth noted that the team arrived in Topeka on a “Sante Fe train, traveling in a special car, painted red, perhaps because their advent into a town causes the town to assume that color.”

Neither of the Topeka papers were impressed with the ball-playing ability of the visitors, who faced a “picked nine” of local male amateurs and semi-pro players.

The Daily Capital:

“The nine females who formed the principal attraction were awkward and scrawny and had no knowledge whatever of the national game they were abusing.”

The Daily Commonwealth:

“The ‘belles’ can’t throw any better than any other woman can, and can hit a ball with about as much force as a ten year old boy.”

The Daily Capital didn’t bother to disclose the final score, “The details of the game are not worthy of extended notice.” The Daily Commonwealth gave the final score, but attributed the Fairies’ 19 to 7 victory in the four-inning game to “assistance” from the umpire, and the generousness of “The home nine (who) gave them every opportunity to make runs.”

Despite the reception in Topeka, the team was popular and performed to large crowds the previous year at the World’s Fair in New Orleans, then spent the summer and early fall of 1895 barnstorming across the Midwest.  The Fairies were generally received with more respect and enthusiasm than what they faced in Topeka, but the reviews of their skills varied.

The Minneapolis Tribune gave the team a glowing notice after a game in August of 1885 “attended by 700 men and eight women,” and said:

“The Fairies of the Field were in fine form and flitted coyly over the luxuriant sward as blithe and chipper as a Mayday butterfly.”

The paper said one of the Fairies—Genevieve McAllister—“wields the willow after the style of Jim O’Rourke,” and Clara Corcoran, who played third base was said to be the niece of Chicago White Stockings pitcher Larry Corcoran.”  The Tribune said of the team’s pitcher:

“Miss Royalston—“the expert and lady-like pitcher of the visitors…formerly lived at Detroit, and learned the art from the study of (Frederick “Dupee”) Shaw, the wizard.  She takes a graceful three-lap pirouette on the left toe, and while the batsman is dazzled by the rapidity with which the stripes on her polonaise fly by, the ball comes out from somewhere and the umpire calls a strike.”

The St. Paul Globe's rendering of one of the 'Fairies.'

The St. Paul Globe’s rendering of one of the ‘Fairies.’

The Fairies defeated the Minneapolis men 8 to 7.

The St. Paul Globe said after a loss at Stillwater, Minnesota “witnessed by a crowd of 1,200 or 1,300 persons,” composed of “Every profession in Stillwater, excepting the clergy, from street urchin to the capitalist, was represented.”

The Globe said of the visitors:

“The girls, seven brunettes and two blondes, were attired in red hose, plaid dresses reaching to the knee, red caps and slippers.  All wore belts, and two or three black jerseys, and were powdered and panted like ballet fairies.”

But the St. Paul paper was not as impressed with the Fairies as their counterparts in Minneapolis, summing up their performance in Stillwell:

“They can’t play ball a little bit.”

When 1,500 turned out for a game in St. Paul, The Globe was equally unimpressed:

“Four innings were played, the score being 14 to 4 in favor of the picked nine, who could have made it 44 to 4 if they chose.  At the close of the fourth inning the manager called, ‘Game! Grab your bases,’ which each basewoman did and the fairies vanished, leaving behind the most disgusted audience that ever went to see a game of baseball.”

Handbills that promoted the team’s appearances read “Have never been here before, may never come again.”

True to the advertisements the Fairies of the Field disbanded shortly after their ‘farce’ in Topeka, and never came again.

Adventures in Barnstorming—Fake Cuban Stars

27 Mar

One of the pitfalls when trying to book a famous barnstorming team to play your local club was making sure you were actually getting what you thought you were getting.

Fake House of David teams crisscrossed the country for years; there were reports of fake Negro League teams and fake versions of the Nebraska Indians.  Most made an attempt to field a competitive team who could at least pass for the team they were fraudulently representing;  some didn’t even bother.

Charles A. Mills thought he was getting the authentic Cuban Stars for a May 1910 game against his St. Louis Giants; the Cubans roster included the great pitcher Jose Mendez, and well-known players like pitcher-outfielder Luis Padron, first baseman Augustin “Tinti” Molina and shortstop Luis Bustamante.

None of them arrived in St. Louis.

Jose Mendez

Jose Mendez

The Freeman said:

“Much talk is going the rounds over the way in which the management of the St. Louis Giants were deceived by a bunch of get-rich-quick schemers, who claimed to be the real Cuban Stars, when in fact there was not a Cuban in the club.”

More than thirty-six-hundred fans came to Kuebler’s Field to see the famous barnstormers play the hometown team, but:

“Mr. C.L. East, advance agent for the supposed Cubans, brought to the city a set of misfits to fool the public and get the money.”

The Freeman insisted that Mills, who bore the brunt of the reaction from angry fans, was an innocent victim of a scam and that the impostors were “in no way the fault of the St. Louis Giants.’”

Mills called it a “high-handed game to defraud the public,” an “unpleasant occurrence that has caused (The Giants) to be unjustly criticised (sic) by some of our best followers.”

There is no record of the outcome of the game or a mention of whether the game was even completed.

The legitimate Cuban Stars, with Mendez, played in St. Louis the following year.

Luis Bustamante

Luis Bustamante

Adventures in Barnstorming II—Crawfords vs. Dean’s

4 Sep

This story has been told in a few books, but those books generally get the facts wrong.  The authors relied on the 50 and 60-year-old memories of participants, the same participants from whom I first heard the story from, but never checked the stories against contemporaneous accounts.

On October 23, 1934 the Pittsburgh Crawfords (the team was made up of many members of the Crawfords lineup, but also included Negro League stars from other teams) played the Dizzy Dean All-Stars (made up of the Dean brothers, a few current and former Major Leaguers and  minor leaguers from the Pittsburgh area) at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.  It was the final game of the Dean Brothers’ 1934 barnstorming tour.  As with most of the games, Dizzy Dean, and Satchel Paige pitched the first two innings.  After Dean was relieved by minor league pitcher Joe Semler, he went to left field.

In the bottom of the 5th, with the Crawfords trailing 4-3, Elander “Vic” Harris either bunted or “tapped the ball” in front of the plate and former and future major league catcher George Susce threw wide to first base.  Harris advanced to second on the throw.

Dizzy Dean came in from left field and told home plate umpire James Ahearn that Harris had interfered with the throw.  Ahearn called Harris out.

Harris ran from 2nd base to argue the call with Ahearn, a local Pittsburgh umpire with whom Harris had a contentious history.

Vic Harris with the 1930 Homestead Grays.

Accounts vary at this point.  Some newspapers said Harris picked up Ahearn’s mask and hit him with it.  Other accounts said Harris grabbed the umpire’s mask (this is what Harris also maintained until his death).

Susce then went after Harris and a melee broke out.  Josh Gibson came to Harris’ aid and wrestled Susce away from him.  Soon a group of fans attempted to join the fray, but all accounts agree that police, security and cooler heads on both teams quickly controlled the situation and the game resumed.

Versions of the story that came much later included an account of Josh Gibson taking on Susce and throwing “Dizzy” Dean off of him “some ten feet away,” when Dean and Ted Page attempted to pull Gibson away from Susce.  This version did not come out until the 1970s, and it strains credibility that the greatest star of the Negro Leagues “threw” one of the most popular white players in America ten feet during a fight and that the account failed to appear in any newspaper story.

Gibson did hit a home run in the 8th to lead the Crawfords to a 4-3 victory.

Harris was removed from the field and arrested for assault.  Other erroneous accounts credit Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney with interceding Harris’ behalf and ensuring he wasn’t charged with a crime.  The problem with that story is that Harris was charged, and convicted of assault and battery in March 1935.  Harris was fined and given six months probation.

This incident, other run-ins with umpires and his aggressive style of play earned Harris the nickname “Vicious Vic.”

Harris died in California in 1978.  He was one of the Negro League players considered for enshrinement in Cooperstown but was passed over in 2006.

Adventures in Barnstorming

3 Sep

By 1908, Andrew “Rube” Foster was probably the best known African-American pitcher in the country.  The previous season, he and Pete Hill had jumped Sol White’s Philadelphia Giants to join the Leland Giants of Chicago, turning the Leland’s into a powerhouse.

As was the custom, the Leland Giants would play a number of games against small town teams when traveling to and from games against other professional teams and their 21 games against other National Independent Clubs teams.

In August of 1908, The Freeman related a story (apocryphal perhaps, but a good story nonetheless) about one of those small town games.

“On their way back from Cleveland, where they had been playing an engagement, they had an agreement to play a little ‘woods town’ team called ‘The Cow Boys,’  The contract called for the great Rube Foster to pitch.”

The story goes on to say that Foster noticed upon arriving that the locals knew him on sight.  Scheduled to pitch against a better team the following day, Foster instructed his team to begin calling the team’s catcher, James “Pete” Booker (who also jumped to the Leland’s from Philadelphia), “Foster.”

The story continues:

“Booker went in to pitch and Foster did the catching.  It worked fine, score 23-0.  The Cow Boys were more than delighted, as they had gotten five hits during the game…Everything went well until a commercial traveler who knows each player on the Leland Giants very well remarked ‘My friends, had Foster pitched that game he would have struck out every man.’ The whole town was in a rage in a little while, and it was a good thing the Lelands (sic) didn’t stop for supper, for those country people would have broke that team up.”

Leland Giants–Pete Hill, far left standing, Pete Booker, standing third from left, and Rube Foster, standing far right.

Hall of Famers Foster and Hill have been written about extensively and their prominent place in Dead Ball era Negro League Baseball is firmly established.  Less has been written about Booker, overshadowed by Hall of Famer Louis Santop and Bruce Petway (arguably the best defensive catcher ever, whose presence with the Leland’s in 1910 pushed Booker to first base), he was an excellent hitter and solid defensively behind the plate and at first.